For the past two months I have been working a 9-5:30 job in Bristol, and travelling in from Bath every morning. The impending end of my time in the South-West has made me reflect that the twice-daily cycle from Bristol station to my office that breaks up my commute may in fact be one of my favourite bits of the whole experience. If I’d started the job a month or two earlier I don’t think this section of my journey would be an enjoyable one – it’s not superb in current weather, and didn’t your mother ever tell you never to hang around by the river past dark? – but in early to mid summer this route along the towpath is a pretty dreamy place to start and end the working day.
Out the station, down temple way, round the corner through the underpass, swerve round the arsehole who walks in the middle of the cycle lane staring bikers down – seriously what is problem, it’s like he doesn’t fully appreciate that we’re single-handedly saving the planet. Past the wood recycling plant and its silent dirty pond encircled with building works and a lone tent. Down the alley with the lethal blind corner with no mirror. Past the two colleagues and possibly lovers who cycle beside each other down the alley between road and towpath; past the two lovers and possibly colleagues who are forced to relinquish grips on each other’s hands and move into single file to let me wheeze past (apologetically). Onto the towpath, ducking overgrown overhangings and the occasional slow and sleepy small bird. Past the Bristol Cats and Dogs Home – a hullabaloo in the morning and eerily quiet in the evening – and past the old woman on her racing bike in her whatever-the-weather sandals. Bike after bike after bike and then over the bridge and then the side road and then the main road and into the car park.
I much prefer the cycle back. A day of work behind me and no time pressure to speak of, the golden hour of 5:40 on a sunny day truly does the route justice – even if it means pursing my lips through clouds and clouds of evening midges that worm their way between the stitches of my cardigan and up my nose and my sleeves before evaporating again by the morning. The evening crowd is different; ties are looser, gaits are slower. Past the guy walking his stoic loping lurcher and occasionally his small blonde child. Past the middle-aged man in too much lycra who once stopped and chatted as we watched the panicked lone waddling of what I had assumed was a small fluffy dinosaur. (He asserted that it was a baby seagull.) Past the balding trudger with the silver earring and the leather shoes and the eternal can of Strongbow (either a homeless person with a strict daily schedule, or someone who just really hates their job.) Up the alley and past the silent dirty pond now populated by silent men with dirty fishing rods, and onwards to the station and to home.
I moved away from London to escape the daily grind of endless travel from door to door, but this cycle has in many ways defined my time in Bristol. I will miss it and the people with whom I share it when I leave.